The Minnesotans on the 'Professor Watchlist' are disappointingly unthreatening

Would you let Marlon James teach your kids? You would if you wanted them to learn how to write.

Would you let Marlon James teach your kids? You would if you wanted them to learn how to write.

The modern college is a tinderbox of radical leftism, against which we must all be vigilant.

This you may learn not by visiting one of said campuses (steer clear) or reading a newspaper (ditto), but in the way people now attain their education: by visiting an obscure website.

The “Professor Watchlist,” launched in November with the goal of cataloguing names and photographs of teachers with a “radical agenda,” would not be out of place in 1970s Moscow or 1934 Berlin.

Its American strain of suspicion about “leftist propaganda” can be traced to Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Wrong though he was about his red-baiting, McCarthy was at least living in a bifurcated world with a real, hostile enemy.

These modern paranoids are fighting a lesser threat: the possibility that someone might get their feelings hurt or — even scarier — develop more feelings by age 21 than they had at 16. A review of the four Minnesotans on the list finds they are disappointingly unfrightening.

The most famous was already being watched… by the people who give out literary trophies. In 2015, Macalester English professor Marlon James won the prestigious Man Booker Prize, Britain’s equivalent to the Pulitzer.

To the watchlist boys, he’s a turncoat. They cite a talk James gave at a literary festival (suspicious!) in France (guilty!). He’s quoted saying America has a “third world” police force that practices “state-sponsored violence.” James was talking about police shootings of civilians “without consequences.”

James doesn’t hate police. Both his parents were cops in his native Jamaica. He just thinks it’s fair to expect more.

That same cop dad taught James to love Shakespeare; the two used to “duel” with soliloquies over glasses of rum. Read enough of that stuff and you’ll start thinking scary thoughts, like not all who commit bad acts are bad men, and that not all sheriffs (or kings) command respect.

A sharp-tongued wordsmith is one thing. But a scientist? In 2014, University of Minnesota-Morris professor Paul "PZ" Myers took one look at a new right-wing student newspaper on campus and detested what he saw. Its inaugural issue was about “black privilege,” and featured a photo of Trayvon Martin lying dead in the street. He submitted a succinct letter to the editor via Twitter: “Fuck off and die.”

As a biology professor specializing on the cellular level, Myers says politics don’t come up in his classroom. Cancer doesn’t care who you voted for — even if the dunce cutting stem cell research funding does.

Teaching curiously hot topics like evolution or climate change isn’t politically correct. It’s scientifically correct. “On these issues on which evidence is very clear, one party has gone all gung ho for those issues,” Myers says. “That’s kind of a problem for us.”

There’s more room for debate in Joe Bendickson’s Native Americans in Minnesota class at the University of Minnesota. But not enough for one John Mickley, a former student who leaked the class final to a right-wing blog. Bendickson asked students to take the perspective of a Dakota or Ojibwe person, and make arguments on topics like “Indian mascots should be banned from sports.”

Mickley complained the assignment robbed him of “free thought.” And that free thought was particularly precious: He went on to become president of a climate change-denying student group.

Bendickson is not trying to indoctrinate anyone. His curriculum covers the era when Native kids were forced to cut their hair, forget their language, and convert to Christianity in white boarding schools.

“I think we need to do more listening and less blacklisting,” he says.

Barbara Gorski’s course could disturb the watchlist guys by its very title: “Business Ethics.” You had them at “business,” Barbara. You lost them at “ethics.”

The St. Thomas professor takes her listing on this proto-fascist website seriously. “That’s my Linkedin photo they’re using,” she says. “It’s years old — and it’s so blurry!”

Gorski’s “sin” was telling students they were privileged to be at St. Thomas, and encouraged them to find ways to give back to those less fortunate. One student objected. If this makes Gorski a radical, at a school with a mission to create “morally responsible leaders” who “advance the common good,” wait till that student hears about the teachings of Jesus.

Gorski’s liberal, but she’s no bully: The morning after this year’s election, she congratulated staff she knew were rooting for Donald Trump. As for the watchlist, she says she’s getting emails now from around the country — from supporters. One asked if she had a favorite charity they could donate to.

“The responses I’m getting from people are so warm. I do find myself chuckling and thinking, ‘This probably isn’t the intent of the people who started this website.’”

On the contrary, Barbara. You’ve fallen right into their trap!

Now give up the names of these “warm” and charitable people. Sounds like the watchboys need to start another list.

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